Carroll County was a crossroads for both Union and Confederate troops en route to Gettysburg, where about 50,000 of them became casualties.
To help mark that pivotal battle, Carroll County historians and tourism officials have set up a self-guided driving tour called "Roads to Gettysburg." The tour allows Civil War buffs to re-create the movements and events that made Carroll County a key location in the days before the battle.
"A small but extremely important cavalry skirmish took place in Westminster on June 29, 1863," according to the Carroll County Visitor Center. "The clash on the edge of town between [Confederate Maj. Gen.] J.E.B. Stuart's cavalry and a small unit of the Delaware cavalry was a significant factor in slowing down the general's march," materials at the center say. The conflict there ended up sidelining Southern cavalry on their way to Pennsylvania to join Gen. Robert E. Lee, leaving historians to "often wonder whether the results of the Battle of Gettysburg might have been different if Stuart had arrived before July 2."
Before and after the battle, Union troops stocked up and stayed in Carroll County churches and places of business. Hospitals were set up to treat hundreds of soldiers from both sides, and generals made important decisions, all within the boundaries of the county.
The driving tour tracks the movements of Stuart's gray riders, Union Maj. Gen. John Sedgwick's 18,000 men, Union Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock's 2nd Corps and other units, making stops at historical points of interest from the era.
Hancock's men paused outside Uniontown on June 29 and 30, where they had a final chance to send letters to parents, wives and sweethearts before heading to Gettysburg.
"Many of these letters would be the last letter home -- 4,369 soldiers from Hancock's 2nd Corps would die in Gettysburg," according to material at the Carroll County Visitor Center.
Some of the buildings and locations where these soldiers spent their final days before Gettysburg have been razed to make way for new businesses and homes. Joshua Yingling's store at Main Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in the heart of Westminster, where troops from both sides stayed while trying to control the roads and railways into Westminster throughout the war, has been replaced with a seafood store.
But many Civil War attractions in Carroll County have been maintained with the help of historians and preservationists.
The Pine Grove Chapel on South Main Street in Mount Airy was constructed in 1846 and is one of the oldest structures in the Mount Airy area. During the war, Union troops were quartered at the chapel to guard the National Road and a nearby freight depot for the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, according to signs on the surrounding grounds.
On June 29, 1863, the Union 2nd Cavalry Division under the command of Brig. Gen. David M. Gregg rode through Mount Airy in pursuit of Stuart's cavalrymen, who were considered a threat to Baltimore and Washington. The chapel served as a barracks for some of these men and for soldiers of Sedgwick's 6th Corps, who might have been quartered there on their way to Westminster.
In the yard behind the historic church there is a stately graveyard. According to the official Mount Airy Web site, "a sick and delirious soldier who wandered into Ridgeville and died was the first person given a Christian burial in the land back of the church."
Most of the key sites along the driving tour, including the chapel, have informational plaques with nuggets of trivia and historical significance printed on them.
Another point of interest is Atlee's Inn (now Boxwood Antiques) on Main Street in New Windsor. After Gregg's division of Yankee cavalry passed through on June 30, 1863, stopping off at the inn for drinks and supplies, a 13-year-old girl named Maggie Mehring wrote in her diary about "horsemen riding six abreast with their swords clattering while cheer after cheer rent the air."
It isn't too hard to allow your mind to drift when standing outside of this outpost of the past and to imagine the hum of passing cars and trucks fading away to allow for the sounds that young Maggie heard that early summer day.
To follow the footsteps of Civil War soldiers, call the Carroll County Office of Tourism at 800-272-1933, or e-mail a request for a information on the Civil War driving tour at cctou firstname.lastname@example.org.